Cedarwood Drive residents Pat and Paula Minore have been blinded by the light—and not in a good way. After nearly two years enduring high intensity floodlights from Turkey Hill School shining into their bedrooms all night long, the couple hopes the Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZC) may provide the light at the end of the tunnel.
The TPZC was the latest stop for the Minores who, along with several neighbors, have brought their plight to the Board of Education, its facilities director, superintendent, the Zoning Enforcement Officer and even First Selectman Jim Zeoli with little resolution. And though minor adjustments were made along the way, and the powers-that-be seemed willing to work with the Minores to alleviate the issue, the solutions didn’t work and there was miscommunication and misunderstanding between all parties involved.
The issues began in 2016 when a town project to pave and refurbish the Turkey Hill School (THS) parking lot was completed. Never an issue in the more than 30 years the Minores lived in their home, suddenly the new LED bulbs installed in the lamppost fixtures now illuminated the land from dusk to dawn, filling nearly every room of their house with bright light. “The school was lit up like Yankee Stadium all summer. I couldn’t have a drink on my deck without light blinding my eyes,” Minore said. “These lights have dramatically affected our quality of life. It’s been disheartening to be ignored by town officials.”
Minore recalled contacting Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO) Paul Dinice in 2016 and as a result, a posse of Board of Education officials came out to their home to check out the situation. “They were making hand puppets on the wall,” Minore said. “I didn’t find it amusing.” The Minores even hired an independent company to perform a lighting analysis and learned the new lights were up to 70 times brighter than moonlight and exceeded lighting regulation limits. A year later, in October and again in July of 2017, Dinice sent letters to School Superintendent Dr. Vince Scarpetti declaring the lights were in violation of Orange Zoning Regulations. In November, with no response from Scarpetti or the Board of Education, Dinice issued an Abatement Order to the Board, instructing them to submit a site plan application – lighting supplement – in compliance with town regulations or “remove all light fixtures which were illegally erected.” The notice stated failure to comply with the order would result in a $150 per day fine for each violation. According to Dinice, a fine has not yet been issued.
When Scarpetti addressed the Board at the TPZC meeting, he reported the Board of Ed was “immediately responsive” when they learned of the problem but Scarpetti made no reference to the abatement order sent by the ZEO. “The Minores only pointed out one fixture and we immediately installed covers and redirected the lights,” he said. “We did our best to rectify the matter and we thought it was resolved.”
As TPZC Commissioners listened to the sequence of events they pointed out the town should have submitted a site plan for the THS paving project before it began, at which time compliance with lighting and other regulations would have been determined. The problem seems to stem from the new LED lights that replaced the original incandescent bulbs in the parking lot’s fixtures giving off much higher light values.
TPZC Chairman Ozzie Parente outlined what has to happen next. “There’s no point in a cease and desist order, this has to get fixed or down the road there will be a lawsuit and that would be ridiculous,” he said. The Commission recommended the town hire a professional to submit a site plan in compliance with zoning regulations.
First Selectman James Zeoli was in the audience throughout the TPZC meeting and offered to hire a lighting professional and have the information available by the May meeting. But as of this printing, the two lights causing the most problems are inexplicably out. “We don’t know why they aren’t working and we can’t do the light study until they’re fixed,” Zeoli said, adding he’s optimistic the situation will be resolved shortly.
“It’s a town property and it’s a school and there’s many concerns across the country that schools need to be well lighted for safety and security purposes but this is overkill as far as lighting goes,” Zeoli said. “There should be shields on the lights and they should be redirected and none of that was done. We’ll figure it out and fix it.”
The Minores were cautiously optimistic leaving the meeting. “Hopefully it won’t take too long,” Minore said.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent